Sunday 25 September 2016

Fear not as Fintan the Proxy rides to the rescue

Shane Ross

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

IN THE HOT SEAT: Anglo minnow and close pal of Brian Cowen, Fintan Drury, took centre stage at the Banking Inquiry
IN THE HOT SEAT: Anglo minnow and close pal of Brian Cowen, Fintan Drury, took centre stage at the Banking Inquiry

No Sean FitzPatrick. No David Drumm. No Willie McAteer. No Tiarnan O'Mahoney. Last week was designated Anglo's week at the Banking Inquiry. Thursday should have been Anglo's day. The big climax beckoned.

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Instead, Fintan the Anti-Climax arrived in the dungeons of Leinster House. The Inquiry was forced to settle for Fintan Drury, a minor player in the banking crisis, a mere non-executive director in Anglo Irish Bank. Fintan would have to do, because nobody else could turn up. Not a single executive from Anglo, the biggest culprit in the crisis, made it to the Banking Inquiry. The farce tumbled on.

Of course Fintan was interesting. Not for his role in running Anglo at the time of the collapse - he didn't seem to know much about that - but because he was a pal of ex-Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Fintan was fluffy about the management of Anglo although he was chairman of its risk committee. He was decisive, loyal and robust when it came to his relationship with Cowen. He never gave an inch.

Fintan Drury was a proxy witness. As the Inquiry, now an impotent vehicle for political eunuchs, could not land any bigger Anglo fish than Drury, they settled for him. He was blessed with good luck. On the very morning that he appeared, the explosive evidence of former Anglo chief executive David Drumm had been shelved. The Director of Public Prosecutions had clashed with the Inquiry, threatening court action if Drumm's evidence was published. No one was allowed to mention it. Poor Fintan, there were so many legal no-go areas that he was, in his own words "constrained". Happy is the banker who is not allowed to enter such tricky territory at a sham Banking Inquiry.

David Drumm was the ghost in the shadows on Thursday. So prevalent was his transatlantic presence that the chairman Ciaran Lynch twice addressed Fintan Drury as "Mr Drumm." It was an understandable mistake. David Drumm was on the tip of everyone's tongues. He had dictated the agenda all week. On Tuesday, the first controversy broke over whether to accept the fugitive ex-boss's offer to be interviewed by video link from the sanctuary of Boston. Although the divided Inquiry members eventually heeded legal advice to turn down his impertinent offer, they resolved instead to accept his written statement as evidence.

Then the lawyers took over. Enter the Director of Public Prosecutions, Claire Loftus. She brought the strong arm of the law down on the Inquiry with a thud. The members backed off as the legal consequences of releasing his statement, not to mention discussing them in public session, put the frighteners on them. Today David Drumm is grinning from ear to ear. He has split the Inquiry members twice in one week. He has dictated the agenda. In the meantime, old Anglo's bankers have escaped from the Banking Inquiry.

As Drury was ducking the bullets in Leinster House, down the road at the Four Courts, eight years after the banking collapse, 12 years after the offence was committed, two minor Anglo officials and one big fish, Tiarnan O'Mahoney, were being found guilty of hiding accounts from the Revenue. While the courts were exposing the antics of Anglo in the banking crisis, the politicians were relegated to helpless spectators.

Fintan the Proxy rode to the rescue, providing precisely the injection the Inquiry members sought. Admittedly he was an utterly inadequate proxy for the Anglo chieftains, but, more promisingly, he provided a proxy for former Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Fintan was the missing link between banking and politics. He joined the dots between Fianna Fail and Anglo. If he was 'constrained' from addressing the activities at Anglo, at least he could tell the world the story of how a Taoiseach managed to be best pals with a director of the rogue bank.

Fine Gael members of the Inquiry were salivating. The prospect of nailing Cowen to the Anglo cross excited them.

Drury , a communications professional in an earlier incarnation, a former Fianna Fail appointee to the chair at RTE, played to the members' preference for political jousts. Realising that the forum had deteriorated into a party political battleground he put his friendship with Cowen at the top of the agenda. Knowing that many politicians prefer headlines to hard work he immediately listed the three well-publicised "interactions" he had with Cowen. He knew that the TDs would yield to the temptation to please the tabloids. He anticipated their concentration on the dinner between Cowen and Anglo top brass, the infamous Druid's Glen golf outing - which he arranged for Cowen with a few Anglo types - and a telephone call he had set up between Anglo's Sean FitzPatrick and Brian Cowen.

The members obliged. It was saturation politics. Yes, he had set up the call between FitzPatrick and Cowen. Yes, he had arranged both the golf outing and the dinner. No, there was no conspiracy. No, he never discussed Anglo with Brian Cowen. Nor was it materially mentioned at the golf outing of Anglo board members with the ex-Taoiseach. Nor at the dinner. He stuck to his story. The politicians tried to wound him. He was defiant: "You either believe me or you don't."

Coalition politicians even tried to find out if Drury knew what had transpired in a conversation between Cowen and Bertie Ahern at Bertie's Drumcondra's headquarters. They drew no blood, but wasted hours. The Inquiry will have to decide collectively whether his evidence was credible. It is backed up by Cowen and, in the absence of Drumm's statement, denied by no one. The suggestion that Sean FitzPatrick, the boss of a major bank, could not pick up the phone to Cowen and needed an introduction through Drury beggars belief, but Drury countered that Anglo was utterly detached from politics and politicians. Perhaps it was contempt rather than indifference.

The Drury defence to the Anglo disaster was one of knowing little about what happened at the bank while it tanked, because "a significant amount of information was not shared with us". He was dumping on the executives. He was hardly challenged on this until the end of his evidence, when chairman Ciaran Lynch listed his ignorance of so many important events at Anglo. The details of Drury's chairmanship of the key Risk committee had been relegated to a sideshow. It was all Druid's Glen, golf and dinner. The non-Fianna Fail members knew that if they dented Drury they damaged Cowen.

Drury was certainly not the hero of the week. But his evidence overshadowed some telling tales told by Alan Dukes and Mike Aynsley about the political shenanigans in the Department of Finance during their later tenure at new Anglo - or IBRC as it became.

Their serious message is in danger of being lost in the political crossfire that has dominated this fiasco. No, there were no heroes last week.

Instead, there was an unsung heroine. Ethna Tinney, the one-time director of EBS who upset the insiders on the EBS board in the early noughties, told a few home truths. She insisted in layman's language that there was a "lot of testosterone rolling around the senior management and the board at the time".

Tinney was down-to-earth, a woman without expertise who landed on the board of the Mutual through a new democratic process.

The insiders on the EBS board sent her packing after she proved a constant thorn in their side. She led a members' revolt and was reinstated - but not in time to save EBS from itself.

Tinney did the State some service last week. Her refreshing, common sense presence exposed the absurdity of pursuing the flawed project any further.

The lawyers have taken over. The Anglo actors are absent. The politicians are playing politics. The Inquiry is adjourned, limping into an autumnal oblivion.

Sunday Independent

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